From boy scientist to PhD

Can you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Matthew Hein can. Ever since he was six, Matthew wanted to be a scientist. He wasn’t exactly sure what a scientist did but he knew he wanted to be one.

As a six-year-old he wasn’t content with simply learning to read and write. He wanted to solve the problems of the universe. Quite literally. In Grade 1 Matt decided he was going to be a scientist, build a rocket and rectify the orbits of planets that were on a future collision course. While that hasn’t quite happened…yet… Matt’s passion for science has only grown.

Having an early focus on science meant Matt had his sights on a PhD whilst in secondary school. ‘After that, there was no changing my mind. A PhD was in my future,” he said.

“I decided to study my PhD at La Trobe primarily because my Lab was so amazing in Honours. I wanted to stay in that environment. It also helped that I studied my undergraduate degree at La Trobe and had experienced the incredible facilities available in LIMS.”

But Matt’s ties to La Trobe go back further than his postgraduate studies, even further back than his undergraduate degree. A brief work experience stint in the Puthalakath Lab whilst in Year 10 gave him his first taste of life as a research scientist. “After that, La Trobe is where I wanted to study.”

Matt is undertaking his PhD in the Hulett Lab, where he is working on an immune protein called a Defensin, which can kill cancer cells. His aims to better understand how Defensin proteins work and investigate their potential role in cancer treatments.

The commencement of Matthew’s PhD was 2020, that’s right, just as COVID-19 related restrictions began. “The biggest issue of lockdown was being unable to access the laboratory to conduct experiments. I felt as if I was starting my PhD behind the eight ball,” laments Matt. But he concedes it wasn’t all bad, Matthew used the time to thoroughly plan his project and experiments, and was able to hit the ground running once restrictions were lifted.

“I learnt about myself during lockdown. That I thrive in a routine. Working from my bedroom really forced me to be very deliberate about how I spent my time. Both to ensure that I was completing what I needed to get done but also for my mental health. I found having routine and clearly defined goals really helped me feel as though I was achieving something,” said Matthew.

As for advice for those considering undertaking a PhD, “If it’s something you are passionate about, the challenges – and there will be challenges – are more than offset by the immense rewards. If you’re up for it, then absolutely you should go for it! I haven’t looked back.”

Take a look at Matthew Hein's 1 minute, 2020 Visualise Your Thesis (VYT) video using LEGO to explain Defensin delivery.

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